How women are giving back to support small business

March 08, 2023 | RBC Wealth Management


We encourage women to embrace investing and philanthropy and to seek advice to ensure it aligns with their values and passions.


More and more women are using their social capital to support female-run organizations to achieve both financial and emotional returns.

Research shows female venture capitalists are twice as likely to invest in teams founded by women, while the Boston Consulting Group found female startups often deliver higher revenue, or more than twice as much per dollar invested.

One reason behind the success of women-led companies is a strong business plan.

“Having a plan is where most of the power comes from,” Jennifer Button, head of Philanthropic Advisory Services at RBC Wealth Management, told a virtual panel discussion at the 2021 SheEO Summit.

The Activating Your Money for Good session heard about supporting women-led businesses, as well as tips for how to incorporate philanthropy into your financial plans.

When investing and philanthropy come together

Button, who works with many women on deploying their ‘social capital dollars’, says some are hesitant, in part because they believe they need more money to get started.

“I get this incredible opportunity to debunk the words philanthropy or philanthropist and impact,” Button says. They are [all] incredibly powerful words, but in some contexts, they seem so aspirational, almost untouchable, and can only be for a specified person who has a certain number of dollars on their finance sheet.”

Button says both investing and philanthropy can start with different dollar values and at different ages and life stages.

“Money is stressful. Investing is stressful. Philanthropy and giving back can also be stressful ... It doesn't matter how many zeros are there,” she explains.

“I find with giving back and investing ... it also comes from a place of passion: You really want to have that impact and understand if it's the right move for you and the risks. Listen to your emotions, listen to your gut and [understand] it doesn't have to be set in stone.”

Putting your dollars to work

Nalini Saxena, founder of New York-based Elicit Consulting, which provides executive advisory and strategic consulting, started her giving back journey through donations and sponsorships. She then moved into microfinance and “patient capital,” which is a long-term investment in an organization.

Saxena signed up as an Activator with SheEO after hearing about the “radically generous community” that supports women and non-binary people who are helping tackle the United Nations' sustainable development goals. As an Activator, Saxena is part of a group of women who each contribute $1,100 to a financing fund, which is loaned out at zero percent over five years to new businesses. Activators also open up their networks to support female entrepreneurs get off the ground.

“It was like tip-toeing into investing and venture funding. That gave me so much joy once I was able to summon up the courage to lean into it,” Saxena says. I've seen first hand what that gift of backing a woman can do for her. I really wanted to get involved and put my own dollars and my own energy towards it as well.”

Saxena says she wanted to feel like she was helping move the needle” by supporting women founders.

“I thought 'I can help support all of these amazing women who have all of these great ideas'. It just takes my commitment,” with dollars and time being involved in the community.

“There's something to be said about fear being excitement turned inside out,” Saxena adds. “I need to turn it inside out and get involved. It's been a lovely journey.”

Giving back to small businesses

Melina De Guglielmo, director of womenswear Canada for Giorgio Armani and a four-time SheEO Activator, started her philanthropic journey by asking herself some basic questions: “What is my legacy going to be? What am I going to leave behind? How am I making the world a better place?”

De Guglielmo acknowledges she was intimidated at first since she doesn't have a finance background, but says starting small and being open to advice helped make it more comfortable.

One piece of advice she received about investing in a startup was to ensure she had a good relationship with the founders and make sure it's a product or service she believes in. The other piece of advice was around the high-risk nature of investing in startup companies. “Someone told me 'don't invest any money you can't afford to lose' and I found that advice so valuable,” she says.

De Guglielmo says she now has a deep satisfaction knowing she's supporting women founders with businesses she believes in.

“It feels incredible,” she says. “It's been the greatest honour of my life to just be able to know some of these women.”

Button encourages women to embrace investing and philanthropy and to seek advice to ensure it aligns with their values and passions.

“When you lead with head, heart and wallet, with gut, brain and emotion, you can get to a place where you're making incredible, inspired and informed giving decisions.”

This article may contain strategies, not all of which will apply to your particular financial circumstances. The information in this article is not intended to provide legal, tax or insurance advice. To ensure that your own circumstances have been properly considered and that action is taken based on the latest information available, you should obtain professional advice from a qualified tax, legal and/or insurance advisor before acting on any of the information in this article.

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